We begin in the future, where the titular Ruthie, who happens to be Princess Carolyn’s great-great-great-granddaughter, is giving a class presentation on her ancestry. She’s doing a report about how Carolyn survived the toughest day of her life; the one that made her who she was when really it could have broken her. I literally started my notes for this episode by saying, “Ooh, we’re in the future! What a lovely way to know certain things are going to work out!” Because that’s the exact thing about this kind of TV episode: It allows us to lock onto certain ideas as fixed points of what’s going to happen. And that reassurance is necessary because Carolyn is about to have the day from hell.
For so much of this season, the story of Carolyn and Ralph has been the story of rising above the limitations and difficulties. They’ve moved in together. They’ve committed. They’ve survived tough days. He even stood up for Carolyn against his family. And now, I believe in them. But today is going to be the hardest day yet. It starts with Ralph fretting about coming up with a new holiday for his greeting-card company and we think that will surely be the tough front they’ll face. Meanwhile, Carolyn goes to work and is immediately confronted by her nemesis, Vanessa Gecko. (I still love the meta-joke that she’s not a Gecko, just a person.) As Ruthie’s narration tells us, this faceoff normally would have rocked Carolyn to her core, but she is in a really solid place with life and feels unshackled by the things that used to bother her. She even wants to thank Vanessa for making her a better agent … but instead Carolyn just burns her with, “You look tired.” (We can’t always be saints.)
This proves to be a momentary feeling of victory: Courtney Portnoy fires Carolyn for the recent career faults, even humiliating her by dangling the carrot of a fake deal that could have fixed things. Feeling dejected but still not broken, Carolyn presses on. But then she goes to the doctor’s office and learns she’s had a miscarriage. The male rhino doctor just charges ahead with a complete lack of sensitivity (as rhinos and men do). He plays right into Carolyn’s worst fears, actually saying things like, “Maybe you didn’t deserve it because you were unkind once,” and “You’re a real tough broad, except for, you know, the uterus area. Pretty weak.” He even acknowledges this is all probably a tough thing for Carolyn to hear, but adds, “Not for me. This is my job so pretty regular day for me.”
It’s all extremely rough, but we keep getting the needed assurances from Carolyn’s future great-great-great-granddaughter that she’ll overcome these things, along with a hilarious, amazing sense of meta-storytelling. Like when the teacher asks, “Who are all these other characters?” and Ruthie responds, “They fill out the world!” (There’s even a great “UNAUTHORIZED B-STORY!” alert gag.) Also, I love the way the episode goes further back in Carolyn’s lineage and leaves us with more questions: Are cats Jewish in this world? Or do they just happen to be Jewish cats? In terms of BoJack lore, “Ruthie” even gives us the official confirmation that, yes, you get one species or the other when having interspecies kids.
Amid this meta-storytelling device, we press on with Ruthie’s report to reach the two straws that break the proverbial camel’s back. The first comes when Carolyn learns that Judah, the one person she could always count on, lied to her about a possible deal she could have made to save her company. She doesn’t even understand why he lied, and this idea breaks her entire sense of who he is. And then a very “small” thing happens that feels very big: Carolyn learns her “family heirloom” necklace is just a cheap, fake piece of jewelry that’s worthless. As she tries to explain how it’s valuable and from the old country, the jeweler responds, “Someone just told you a story.”
Now crushed on four major fronts, she goes to talk to Ralph, the one rock in her life. Right now, she needs to be able to talk about everything that’s happened, but he’s all wrapped up in trying to invent a fake holiday (for his greeting-card company, of course), so she puts on a brave face and lies. Carolyn figures she’ll just tell him later, but then, he says the 11 most devastating words possible: “Everything is so easy with you. That’s why I love you.” We know what he means, but it’s the kind of sentiment that makes hard things seem impossible to mention. Now feeling completely alone, she goes back to her office and fires Judah for lying. He’s clearly hurt. He clearly didn’t mean to do wrong, but he accepts her decision and leaves.
“Ruthie … this story has gotten really dark.”
But Ruthie retorts to Mrs. Teacherbot, “It has a happy ending! I promise!” And that’s what we need to hear. Because until now, this has been the story of Carolyn and Ralph overcoming so many odds. They go to dinner and we’re confident this will be the scene where it’s all going to come out and they can commiserate. But it immediately goes wonky. Carolyn can’t handle the crippling disappointment of the miscarriage. And there is no darkness like the darkness of feeling alone precisely with the people who are supposed to make you feel whole. She lies more, she drinks more, and it finally all explodes in anger and frustration back at her (secret) apartment. The pain Carolyn feels is the pain that comes when you’re a broken person, but you think you’re with someone who has had life on easy street. You worry you’re too difficult for people. That you’re too much. And the only answer that can fix it is to hide even more, pushing everyone away.
It’s a concept I didn’t understand for a long time, at least not emotionally. But in fact, it’s the counterintuitive defensive nature of trauma. Carolyn has had five miscarriages now. She may very well have more. She’s lashing out because that reality is terrifying. It’s traumatized her, whether she admits it or not. And that trauma makes you afraid to lose people, to be loved, to let them see the totality of yourself. It’s all the defenses of a broken system. She shouts at Ralph, “You’re not allowed to be mad at me, this is my bad day,” but really, it’s the fear she wants to express about what he said: “It’s so easy for you to love me when everything’s good.” Unsure what to do, Ralph leaves … and then there is nothing left. So Carolyn goes to her office, pulls out a drink, and ends up talking to BoJack.
And then it finally comes.
Princess Carolyn: “You know what I do when I have a really bad, awful, terrible day? I imagine my great-great-great–granddaughter in the future talking to her class about me. She’s poised and funny and tells people about me and how everything worked out in the end. And when I think about that? I think about how everything’s going to work out. Because how else could she tell people?”
BoJack: “But it’s … fake.”
Princess Carolyn: “Yeah, well, it makes me feel better.”
Cut to black.
I know I say it every episode, but oof. At this point in BoJack Horseman, I feel dumb for not seeing this sort of thing coming, because I really didn’t. We never want to believe something so awful, but of course that’s where this episode was going to go. The grim truth is our future can only be abstract to us. A path we hope for. In that moment, just like Carolyn, we feel the pain of “hope” because we fall for this lie all together. And so, we hear the ending credits song as one: “Heart, oh heart / Stop making a fool of me.”
Best Jokes and Other Notes
• “MRS. Teachbot!” [holds up ring] / “Uggggh.”
• “THE BEAN SYSTEM IS THE WAY.”
• “I’m trying out some new phone stuff.”
“I was not trying to engage in punnery during business hours.”
• “Because he lost his hands underground and they replaced them with creepy lobster claws. Typical politics!”
• “Take your hush pill!”
• The great callback joke of how everyone is now wearing Todd’s fashion outfit.
• “Wait, don’t you mean Gerj Clooners?” “WHO CARES.”
• Eight beans is 17 minutes and 32 seconds of episode time, so a bean is therefore 131.5 seconds or just slightly over two minutes. What? I like math.
• “Whose kid is that!?!?”
• The actual mean-joke target: “Kattan’s out? Right before his comeback? Right before the world is ready to settle for Kattan?!” A close second: “All they had was Kirkland snacks — Kirkland snacks, P.C.!”
• The moment that made me happiest: the way Princess Carolyn “hides” the hat under the ashtray.